Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Peck on the Story of Satan

In my latest reading of M. Scott Peck's People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil, I finished the chapter on exorcism, and I read the chapter on the My Lai Massacre during the Vietnam War, in which U.S. troops killed a group of South Vietnamese civilians believing that these civilians were assisting the Viet-cong (whom the U.S. was fighting).  In this post, I'd like to focus on something in Peck's chapter on exorcism.

What stood out to me in Peck's chapter about exorcism was Peck's description of "Judeo-Christian myth and doctrine about Satan" (page 203).  The way that Peck tells the story, Satan performed a role for God, namely, as one who helped human beings to grow by testing and tempting them.  In the footnote, Peck says that God was once the adversary (the meaning of the word "Satan") who performed this role, but God decided it was necessary for humans to be tempted by something in opposition to the will of God, so "God delegated this oppositional (diabolic) and adversarial (satanic) function to the chief of His archangels" (page 203).  But Satan began to get carried away with his role, for he performed his adversarial functions for his own amusement, as was the case with Satan's treatment of Job.  God then decided that simple tests of people's character were not enough to help them to grow, so God sent God's son to demonstrate God's love and to be an example to humanity.  Satan refused to acknowledge Christ's precedence, however, so Satan was cast out of heaven into hell and now seeks to "spiritually destroy" human beings.

Peck does not cite sources for this narrative, but I found it interesting.  It differs from the stories that I heard about Satan's origin----that Satan fell from heaven shortly before creation, not when Christ came.  I suppose that the stories that I heard made a degree of sense, for, if the deceptive serpent in Genesis 3 was Satan, then one could posit that Satan became an enemy against God before the events of Genesis 3, either prior to creation, or when Adam was created.  The latter is the story in the Koran: Iblis (the devil) refused to bow down to the newly created man and thus became an enemy to God.  Suppose that the serpent in Genesis 3 was not acting in opposition to God, per se, but was fulfilling his role as the tester of human beings?  That would coincide with Peck's story, yet I don't think it fits Genesis 3 that well, for, in Genesis 3, God appears to disapprove of the serpent's testing of Eve.

What I like about Peck's narrative, however, is that it does fit how biblical scholars conceive of Satan: that the Satan was not always God's archenemy in Hebrew thought but performed a role as prosecuting attorney, and that God himself was sometimes a satan, or adversary (as occurs in the story of Balaam).  According to the biblical scholarship that I have read, it was only later that Satan became conceptualized as God's archenemy.  Interestingly, in Peck's narrative, it was at a later time that Satan officially became God's enemy.

What about the part of Peck's story about Satan falling from heaven during Christ's time on earth?  There are biblical scholars who maintain that this theme, too, is in the Bible.  After all, the Satan in the Book of Job is in heaven.  When Jesus says in Luke 10:18 that he saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven, there are scholars who interpret that to mean that Jesus saw this during his time on earth, when his ministry was challenging Satanic dominion.  And Revelation 12 may present a scenario in which the devil and his demonic followers fall out of heaven after the birth of Christ.

I am not entirely familiar with ancient Christian and Jewish stories about Satan, however, or where they overlap with or differ from Peck's narrative.

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